Evan Silva

Matchups

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Matchups: He's Heating Up

Friday, October 12, 2012


1:00PM ET Games

Dallas @ Baltimore

DeMarco Murray entered the season in a seemingly ideal on-paper situation. Dallas' offense had the look of an explosive juggernaut, and Murray was coming off a monster rookie-year stretch run. But there were signs of interior-line issues in August, and they've impacted the real games more than anyone could have imagined. Front-seven defenders are relentlessly knifing into Dallas' backfield, and Murray has not displayed an ability to elude them. It's fair to wonder if this is an unfixable mess, because the Cowboys have no difference-making guard/center reinforcements on the way. Baltimore isn't playing shutdown run defense this year, but I expect Murray's struggles to continue on Sunday. I'd view him as a dicey RB2. ... Jason Witten got back on track with a 13-112-1 line two Monday nights ago against the Bears. Although Witten has lost some athleticism and fluidity in his tenth NFL season -- he's more of a "catch and fall" receiver than seam stretcher at this point -- realistically all Witten needed to do was secure footballs thrown at him after a drop-filled start. The targets are going to be there; Witten was leading the league in drops after three games. He's a fine back-end TE1 against SS Bernard Pollard and the Ravens.

Dez Bryant's Week 4 game, before the Week 5 bye, kind of encapsulated him to this point in his career. Bryant played terribly, running incorrect routes, dropping several passes, and getting flagged for dumb penalties. But the Cowboys kept going back to him because they need him, and Bryant finished with 105 yards on eight catches. And for the forward-looking fantasy owner, it's important to remember that the Cowboys need Bryant, so they'll keep going to him. They can't run the ball. They've pegged Miles Austin as a complementary receiver with chronic hamstring problems. Witten isn't the same pass catcher he once was. I called Bryant an early-season buy low, and I'm standing by that. I also think he'll have a blowup Week 6 game against oft-burned Ravens RCB Cary Williams. ... Austin has been too productive to bench in fantasy unless you're filthy receiver rich, but he has a far tougher Sunday draw against slot/LCB Lardarius Webb. Check your expectations for Austin. ... Tony Romo's inconsistency can be maddening and Baltimore plays better pass defense than its No. 22 ranking suggests, although Dean Pees' group still isn't generating consistent pass pressure. The Cowboys' passing offense has struggled under duress, but Romo should have a cleaner pocket Sunday than the "at Baltimore" matchup ordinarily suggests. Romo remains a top-12 quarterback play in Week 6.

The Cowboys' bye came at the right time. They're getting back NT Jay Ratliff (ankle) and LE Kenyon Coleman (knee), two core run stoppers for Dallas' defense. The defensive-line injections obviously don't make Ray Rice bench-able in fantasy leagues, but they could impact the box score in what I anticipate to be a relatively low-scoring game. ... Despite what should have been back-to-back friendly matchups, Joe Flacco has come back to Earth a bit over his past two games, combining for just one passing touchdown against the Browns and Chiefs. The ship hasn't completely sailed on Flacco as a QB1, but he's settling in as more of a week-to-week matchup play. In Week 6, the Cowboys' physical cornerbacks are likely to give Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith problems over the middle and on the perimeter, and Baltimore could have trouble generating consistent ball movement. Dallas has the No. 1 pass defense in football. ... Look for Boldin to match up with slot CB Orlando Scandrick and rover cornerback Brandon Carr in this game, while Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins take Smith outside. I'll continue to support Smith as the best weekly bet for production in Baltimore's receiver corps, but Ravens wideouts have tough Week 6 matchups and there's no way around it.

I think this will be a game where no Ravens pass catcher tops 70 or so yards. Much as they have opposing wideouts, the Cowboys are suffocating tight ends. Through five games, no NFC team has allowed fewer catches and yards to the position. Although this is hindsight analysis and in no way beneficial for fantasy owners -- who must think ahead -- Dennis Pitta's two-week production lull is no surprise because Boldin essentially plays the same position as him and is hogging targets and yards. As to which Ravens "inside" receiver will have a bigger Week 6 game, your guess is as good as mine. Boldin looks to me like a low-end WR3. Pitta is a high-end TE2. ... Rice is in the midst of his third top-four fantasy back season in four years. The Cowboys have a viable group to defend Rice in a powerful front five that clogs lanes as speedy ILBs Sean Lee and Bruce Carter track down ball carriers. I'd start Rice because he's Ray Rice, but this game is going to be a battle. I picked the Ravens only because they are at home. Dallas should be quite competitive.

Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Cowboys 17

Kansas City @ Tampa Bay

The Buccaneers' run-defense ranking reads No. 4 overall at present, but the year-ending loss of RE Adrian Clayborn has not yet been fully realized. Tampa Bay was gashed for 153 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries (4.94 YPC) by the Redskins before the Week 5 bye, and now faces a Chiefs team that does one thing well, and one thing only: Run the football. Smoking-hot Jamaal Charles, the No. 2 overall fantasy running back, was supposed to have a difficult matchup against the Ravens last week. Instead, Charles lit up Baltimore for 161 total yards and currently leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage. He's a matchup-proof, every-week starter. ... Although Shaun Draughn handles a fair amount of passing-down snaps, he and Cyrus Gray are essentially just "breather backs" behind Charles. Draughn is averaging nine touches for 52 yards per week. Gray will be the third-stringer until Peyton Hillis returns from his high ankle sprain. The Chiefs have a Week 7 bye, so I'd look for Hillis to reenter the backfield picture in Week 8 against the division rival Raiders. ... Tony Moeaki is indeed blocking more with Kevin Boss (concussions) on injured reserve. Moeaki has nine catches for 75 scoreless yards on the season. In Week 5, Pro Football Focus charted Moeaki with 68 snaps. He blocked on 52. Leave Moeaki on fantasy waiver wires.

Matt Cassel (concussion) was bad, but be careful what you wish for, Chiefs fans. Brady Quinn can be worse. Incapable of throwing the ball on a beeline, Quinn is one of the least accurate passers of our generation. He's completed 52.5 percent of his career throws, averaging 5.43 yards per pass attempt. Tampa Bay presents a favorable pass-defense matchup, but it may not matter because Quinn has always struggled to hit open receivers. ... Quinn's insertion adds risk to Dwayne Bowe, but it's difficult to bench top-ten fantasy wideouts regardless of circumstance. The Bucs have only played four games, and they've been tagged for four 100-yard receiving efforts. Fantasy owners should cross their fingers that Quinn simply peppers Bowe with targets. ... Jon Baldwin has clearly passed Steve Breaston for the Chiefs' No. 2 wideout job, but the 2011 first-round pick has five grabs and 76 scoreless yards to show for it over the last two games. Now battling a lingering hamstring injury, Baldwin isn't worth a fantasy start yet. ... Onetime popular sleeper Dexter McCluster bottomed out in Week 5, not getting a single offensive touch. Not a viable Week 6 play before a Week 7 bye, McCluster can safely be dropped in standard leagues.

 

Saturday Update: The NFL announced Saturday that Bucs top CB Aqib Talib has been suspended four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancers. He won't play against the Chiefs. Talib almost certainly would have been assigned to Bowe in shadow coverage, and his absence improves Bowe's fantasy matchup. Kansas City's top receiver has a better chance to get consistently open Sunday.

The Chiefs have allowed the fifth most points in the NFL. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most yards. Based on those statistics alone, you might wonder if this game has sneaky shootout potential. Quinn and Josh Freeman's erratic passing will have its say about that, but Vincent Jackson is probably the second strongest fantasy bet on either side of Chiefs-Bucs, behind only Charles and arguably ahead of Bowe. A top-20 fantasy receiver in per-game scoring, V-Jax leads all Bucs would-be pass catchers in targets -- by 16. Particularly until the running game gets going, Jackson is the go-to guy in Bucs rookie playcaller Mike Sullivan's scheme. ... The Chiefs' defense has given up a 10:3 TD-to-INT ratio and the NFL's fifth-highest YPA through five games. Freeman is much too inconsistent for standard-league fantasy quarterback value, but he should be able to get Jackson the ball. ... Whereas split end Jackson will spend most of the game in less reliable RCB Stanford Routt's coverage, flanker Mike Williams will deal with LCB Brandon Flowers for the majority of this contest. The Bucs make little effort to get Williams the ball, just based off 2012 target stats, and he has a more difficult matchup than his receiver teammate. Williams has cleared 60 receiving yards once in four games. Start Jackson, and leave Williams on the bench.

Both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders rank the Bucs as a top-15 run-blocking team. Doug Martin simply didn't look big-league ready in the first month, and there are now strong indications that coach Greg Schiano is poised to revisit the running back-by-committee approach. Though Kansas City hasn't defended the run particularly well this year -- No. 22 ranking and 4.45 YPC allowed -- both Martin and LeGarrette Blount will be dicey flex options in Week 6 because the on-field roles lack clarity. I'd lean toward Martin if deciding between the two, but don't have a strong feel for the carry distribution. We'll know more about the Bucs' backfield after this game.

Score Prediction: Chiefs 20, Bucs 18

Cincinnati @ Cleveland

Coach Pat Shurmur hinted early this week that the Browns were actively working to make Trent Richardson an every-down back. On Wednesday, ESPN Cleveland reported T-Rich indeed will replace Chris Ogbonnaya in passing situations, further increasing the first-round rookie's fantasy appeal as Richardson locks himself in as a legit RB1. Already one of the game's most dynamic ball carriers, Richardson is averaging 5.8 yards per touch the past two weeks. The Bengals rank 19th versus the run, surrender 4.41 yards a carry, and have allowed seven rushing TDs in a five-game span. Now adding more reception potential to his repertoire, Richardson is a top-seven Week 6 running back play, behind only Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Ryan Mathews, and Ray Rice. ... Even with Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin continuing to nurse hamstring injuries, the Browns have reverted to last year's receiver-committee approach. Josh Gordon (2-82-2) and slot man Jordan Norwood (9-81) were the go-to guys last week. Greg Little (4-77) was the top producer the week before. Norwood now has a foot injury and looks unlikely to play Sunday, perhaps thrusting Josh Cribbs back into the mix. Needless to say, you'll be hard pressed to find consistent fantasy stats in Cleveland's pass-catching corps. Avoid.

 

Friday Update: Norwood's injury proved serious, and on Friday he was placed on the injured reserve-recall list, knocking him out for at least the next eight weeks. The Browns listed Benjamin as doubtful for Week 6, Massaquoi as out, and signed undrafted rookie Josh Cooper from the practice squad. Look for Gordon and Little to start against the Bengals, with Cooper probably entering the game on passing downs as a slot receiver. Cribbs would be the No. 4.

I re-watched Miami-Cincinnati on Tuesday, and found the Bengals' play speed to be significantly faster with Bernard Scott in the game, as opposed to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The offense moved at a crisper pace. With Scott lost for the season, I doubt Cincinnati's run game will ever get off the ground. Green-Ellis has 143 yards on his last 57 carries (2.51 YPC), and playcaller Jay Gruden is already trying to reduce his role. It was Scott seeing increased playing time last week, and it'll be Brian Leonard and Cedric Peerman in Week 6. Green-Ellis' snap count against the Dolphins was a season-low 31. A date with Cleveland's No. 26 run defense could temporarily spike Green-Ellis' perceived value, but his season-long outlook is grim. It feels like I write this every week, but you'll want to unload Green-Ellis as quickly as possible if he has a good game. ... The Browns' pass defense has been shredded recently by wideouts, but Cleveland defends tight ends well with SS T.J. Ward often assigned to them. Just one tight end has found pay dirt against the Browns this year, and only three teams have allowed fewer yards to the position. Without a single game over 64 yards this season, Jermaine Gresham is just a desperation bye-week option at Cleveland.

The return of Joe Haden will make life tougher on A.J. Green, but Green did burn Haden for 110 yards on three catches the last time they met. The No. 1 receiver in all of fantasy, Green can never be benched. ... After lighting up three straight weak defenses in Weeks 2-4, Andy Dalton snapped back to reality against a surprisingly formidable Week 5 foe in Miami. Dalton missed too many open receivers, turned it over three times, and played poorly under pressure. I still have not seen Dalton play well enough against a competitive defense to believe he can sustain top 12-15 fantasy quarterback production into the winter months. Even against the Browns, I think Dalton is bye-week filler at best and ideally a QB2. ... Andrew Hawkins' 13 targets in Week 5 look promising on paper, although they were largely due to shotgun-heavy comeback mode. Seven occurred in the final 20 minutes, with the Bengals trying to erase a 17-6 deficit. Hawkins is a dynamic weapon in the slot, but his playing time remains a concern. I do like Hawkins' Week 6 matchup, as the Browns are minus slot CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and will undoubtedly scuffle to replace him. ... Armon Binns has settled in as Cincinnati's primary split end -- ahead of Brandon Tate -- but is the Bengals' No. 4 passing-game option, behind Green, Hawkins, and Gresham. Averaging under 40 yards per game and yet to top 66 in any week yet, Binns should be plastered to your waiver wire.

Score Prediction: Browns 17, Bengals 16


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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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